So you’ve decided to install an aluminum fence on your property. Congratulations! This is going to be one of the most rewarding things you can do to improve the value of your property. Improving landscape (including fencing) has the biggest return on investment of any improvement you could make on your home.
But building a fence isn’t just about resale value: you want to live here, right? Your aluminum fence is something that you’re going to be looking at day in and day out for years–given the lifespan of an aluminum fence, it’s going to outlive most of the trees, bushes, paint jobs, and even the asphalt on your driveway. So you’ve got to be happy with the fence; it’s got to look good, and it’s got to either keep things in or keep things out. In other words, it’s got to do its job as a fence.
But you’ve got a curveball. Your yard has a slope to it, and the thought of installing a fence–a relatively simple, straight-forward job–has now become complicated (or so it seems). How do you install an aluminum fence–a straight aluminum fence!–on a slope?
Make a Plan
The first thing you need to do, before you even buy your fencing, is make a plan for where you’re going to install it. This is nothing special, normally, because you simply measure the distance with a tape measure and write down the dimensions of your yard. It’s a little bit trickier than that with a fence on a slope, but it’s nothing you can’t handle.
Remember algebra class in middle school when you were taught about slopes? Don’t worry; we’re not going to make you do any difficult equations. But the gist of finding a slope is to figure out the “rise over the run”. In other words, how much does your fence rise vertically over how far it runs horizontally?
This might seem an impossible task when you’re looking at your entire slope–how do you judge the rise from the bottom of your property to the top? Don’t worry. We can do it in increments, and we only need three simple tools: a stiff board that is the length of your fence (so, if you’re buying a 6’ long fence panel, you need a 6’ long board), a level, and a tape measure.
Lay your board where the fence panel will be. At the lower end of the board (the bottom of the slope) place your level on top of the board. Then lift the board from that end until the level measures even. You should now have a board perfectly level above the slope. Then, with the tape measure, find the distance between the ground and the board. (This may require a helper–one person to hold the board level and the other person to measure.)
So the length of your board (typically 6 feet) will be the “run” and the distance between the ground and the board will be the “rise”. So let’s say that the rise is one foot. The slope then is rise over run: 1’ over 6’, or 1/6.
Good news! An aluminum fence can go down that slope! Typically, our standard 6’ panels can go up as much as a 19” rise.
Racking or Raking
Following a slope like this is called racking (or, alternately, raking) It allows your fence to have a slope to it where all of the pickets and posts remain vertical, but the rails slope.
Now our algebra lovers will remind us that by sloping the fence, you’re not quite going the full 6’ anymore. The Pythagorean theorem comes back to haunt us. But never mind. If you know the distance your fence needs to travel, and you know the slope (the rise over run), then call us and we’ll do all the calculations to make sure that you have enough fencing to cover the distance.
And odds are your entire yard isn’t on a slope–just parts of it. And some of the slopes are minor, and would look odd to have your fence going up and down like a wave. So let’s talk about the second way of handling a sloping yard: stepping.
Stepping refers to the way an aluminum fence looks when the rail across the top is horizontal, and each panel “steps” down to follow the slope of the yard. This can be done because the yard is too steep to fence with racking (remember, it can only go 19” rise) or it can be done for aesthetics. (It also can be done because some styles of fence don’t allow racking, including the Cathedral and Elegant Arch.)
In this case, you simply measure the posts as you would normally, and install the fence as you would normally, keeping the rail level, but you lower each panel, stepping them down with the slope of the fence.
As this will leave an open space beneath the lower end of the fence, many people see fit to put paving stones, bricks, or cinder blocks beneath these stepped fences. After all, if you have a fence to keep the dog inside the yard (or the neighbor’s dog outside) then you don’t want a gaping hole in your fence line.
These can be done very scenically with stones and pavers, which will not only block the gaps but also hide the cement post hole of each post.
So you see there’s not much trouble at all to the idea of installing a fence on a slope, either through racking or stepping. All that is required is making a plan of your yard, determining the slope, and deciding whether your home would be best suited with a racked or stepped fence. And if you have any questions about the process, our experts can walk you through it (and do the hard math for you.)